Two writers with intimate knowledge of Queens will participate in separate, upcoming enrichment events at the Greater Astoria Historical Society. On Saturday, Adrienne Onofri, who just published the guidebook Walking Queens, will lead a roundtable discussion on two of the borough’s hottest neighborhoods, Astoria and Long Island City. This licensed NYC tour guide, who also writes about theater for the Broadway World blog, will then sell and sign copies of her new book, which describes 30 routes to discover Queens on foot.
On Monday, Q’Stoner writer Kevin Walsh, a historian who also runs the Forgotten NY blog, will take attendees on an indoor tour of classic New York City storefront signs — with the help of slides. They come in all shapes and sizes and contain words in countless colors and fonts. Plus, some storefront signs have wacky and/or fascinating stories.
As you may have noticed, I have a bit of a “thing” for cool cars. Remember that 1957 Pontiac Star Chief in Astoria I told you about, or the 1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe spotted nearby Mt. Zion Cemetery at the border of Woodside and Maspeth? Most recently, I pointed out a 1947 Dodge which was innocuously parked in industrial Maspeth.
Sometimes, I barely have to leave the house to spot one of these vintage or classic rides, as is the case with this 1980 Pontiac Trans Am, which is a regular visitor to my own block in Astoria.
Everybody has their own holiday traditions. Having grown up in a Jewish family, I was always left out of the whole Christmas thing. Saying that, my family had a December tradition of piling into the car and checking out the decorations which the “goyem” had deployed. My family wasn’t unique in this, of course. A girlfriend in high school’s family actually gave the practice of driving around the neighborhood seeking Christmas lights into something they called “Klooking.” The name came from the kids saying “Look Look Look” which soon became LOOKLOOKLOOOK as they drew close to a particularly outlandish display.
Just the other night, I convinced a friend to drive around Astoria for a while, and go “Klooking.” Here’s some of what we saw while driving around the neighborhood.
The Spanish word “posada” can be translated as “inn” or “lodging” in English. The Spanish-born tradition “Las Posadas“ is a Christian celebration of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy that has become very popular in the United States recently. Basically a simulation of the story of Jesus Christ’s nativity, participants parade through public streets like Mary and Joseph allegedly did on Christmas Eve, stopping at various houses to ask for shelter. This Saturday, the Latin American Culture Center of Queens will hold an enactment of Las Posadas with observers strolling through Astoria and making symbolic stops along the way to the ARROW Community Center, where a party will be born.
Details: Las Posadas Celebration, ARROW Community Center, 35-30 35th Street, Astoria, free, for more information, try 718-261-7664 or LACCQ@aol.com.
Come and visit. You’ll like it. Lonely Planet named Queens the best tourism destination for 2015 this morning. The travel media company commended the borough “for topicality and buzz-worthiness,” while praising the food, diversity, hotels, events, and unique neighborhoods.
“Nowhere is the image of New York as the global melting pot truer than Queens,” reads Lonely Planet’s editorial in its Best in the US list for 2015. “Browse New York’s biggest Chinatown in Flushing, shop for brilliantly colored saris in Jackson Heights, and inhale the heady aromas of coffee and hookahs in Astoria.”
The editorial continues: “The incomparable array of world cuisines makes Queens a destination for food lovers from all parts of New York City. For your art fix, ogle the new upgrades to the Queens Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image, look for the new Emerging Artists Festival in Long Island City, and stroll Astoria’s new 24-block Kaufman Arts District. If you prefer sand and surf to paint and canvas, head to Rockaway.”
Western South Dakota came in second on the list. The other members of the top 10 were, in order, New Orleans (LA), the Colorado River, North Conway (NH), Indianapolis (IN), Greenville (SC), Oakland (CA), Duluth (MN), and the Mount Shasta Region (CA).
In a recent New York Times piece, Daniel L. Doctoroff (who served as the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York, and then as the CEO of Bloomberg L.P. until September of this year) emphatically reissued his call to deck over the Sunnyside Yard here in Queens with the intention of erecting some sort of convention center atop it.
As regular devotees of Q’stoner know, I’ve been mentioning Sunnyside Yard over and over for a while now. The Harold Interlocking is found here, which is the busiest rail junction in the entire United States, for instance. You might notice that the Doctoroff plan is actually mentioned in that posting as well, which was published in July of 2013.
There are lots of people who think this is a good idea being proposed. Deck over the yard and build a world class convention center and hotel complex, at Queens Plaza. Add in an “affordable” housing component, or non binding promise to think about building some at least, and only an idiot would oppose it.
Famously, the City of Greater New York possesses what is known as a “combined sewer” system. We’re not unique, many of the East Coast cities of the United States manage their waste water in a similar fashion. “Combined” indicates that sanitary (toilet water, kitchen sink etc.) waste water travels underground in the same pipes that carry storm water and snow melt. In comparison, the younger cities of the West Coast – Los Angeles, for instance – have distinct infrastructure for sanitary and storm. In our case, during rain events, the combined flow often gets released into area waterways like the East River or my beloved Newtown Creek. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection – DEP – does what it can to keep that from happening, but a quarter inch of rain citywide translates into a billion gallons of water roaring around under the streets. Fixing this situation is a municipal Gordian Knot, and would involve a massive investment in infrastructure that would raise your water bills so high that you’d happily pay $5 a liter for bottled water. I’m told that DEP has a long term plan they’re working on, which will play out over several decades, to ameliorate the issue.
That’s the setting for today’s tale, wherein I’d like to point out a seldom noticed bit of street/sewer infrastructure.
Like every kid who grew up in New York City, the expectation was that you would be treated to a “ride” in return for being dragged by your parents to some shopping mall for school clothes. My parents used to display a sadistic glee in tormenting me, saying that they were all out of quarters and that I should think about getting a job. I was five. Eventually, after purchasing garments which my schoolmates would inevitably ridicule me for wearing, Mom and Dad would crack and give me a quarter so that I could get my payoff for consenting to wearing a turtleneck (it was the 1970s). You should have seen what they’d make me go through for a Carvel ice cream cake on my birthday, but that’s another story.
Coin Operated Vending Machines, that’s the official designation of these mechanical bits of street furniture.
Just the other day, I decided it was too nice a day not to go out for a stroll. Not having a whole lot of time to amble about, it was decided to “keep it local” and stay in Astoria. A few errands ended up being part of the excursion, and on the way home my path brought me to 46th Street between 25th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard where I encountered one of the many concrete arches that have carried the tracks of the New York Connecting Railroad since the time of the first World War. The tracks head east to the Fresh Pond and Sunnyside Yards, and west to the Hell Gate Bridge. Hell Gate Bridge began carrying rail traffic in April of 1917, by the way, which is what makes what I encountered on 46th Street so puzzling.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in this case, it translates into more chances to watch great theater in Queens. Last November, the Astoria Performing Arts Center presented The Cottage, a hilarious play about sex, betrayal and maybe even love. Set in an English country home in 1923, a woman decides to come clean about an affair to her husband and her lover’s wife. Hilarity ensues as a surprising web of secrets unravels via stinging barbs, mischievous looks, and wacky plot twists. Fast-forward to this November, and Queens Theatre is ready to present nine showings of the same play (above) with a little-changed cast. Meanwhile, APAC is ready to offer In The Bones (below) 12 times throughout the month. This somber drama is based on a soldier who returns home from Afghanistan and ends his life. In a series of wrenching scenes moving ahead a year at a time, his surviving family and partner are transformed by their grief. This is a world premiere, but if it has a successful run, maybe we’ll be able to catch it at Queens Theatre next year.
Details: The Cottage, Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Avenue South, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, November 7th to November 16th, Fridays at 8 pm with a special matinee on November 14th at 2 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, $25-$42.
Bonus details: In The Bones, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent Street, Astoria, November 6th through November 22nd, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm, $18/$12 for seniors and students.
Top photo: Queens Theatre; bottom photo: Astoria Performing Arts Center